The Texas prison system has given its OK for a Christian organization to train convicts to become Christian ministers who will go to other prison units to use their religious training to help fellow inmates. The Austin American-Statesman says in an editorial, “We trust that those officials understand that they also must allow Muslims, as well as folks of all religions, to offer similar behind-bars programs should they chose to do so.” Under the program – which carries the potential to help troubled inmates turn around their lives – a four-year seminary will be established at a maximum-security prison with a history of problems. The tentative plan calls for the program to begin next fall with a class of 40 to 50 qualified convicts working toward degrees.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who has seen many prison programs come and go, says this one has “the potential to be transformational for our entire system.” We are for most anything that carries so much potential good for the state prison system. This program comes with some potential red flags, says the newspaper. It will be run by a seminary affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The editorial says that in a tax-supported institution with a captive population, “We trust that all involved will keep a close eye on this to make sure evangelism will not be offered where it is not welcomed.” A state prison system, with its captive-by-definition population, is not the proper place for a single brand of faith to have the opportunity to spread its message, says the paper, addidng that by approving the behind-bars Christian seminary, prison officials tacitly also approved such programs for other religions.